Monday, April 20, 2015

Your 2015 Giants: PQS After (nearly) Three Turns of the Rotation

I was not planning on writing anything regarding PQS this early, but with the losing and the fans' angst, I thought I would look into it.  Plus, with LA coming up, thought I would combine the two.

ogc thoughts

Again, the Giants starting rotation starts out slow, as they did in 2014 as well.  This time, it's Heston being the dominant starter (last year it was Hudson), with 3 DOM starts out of three.  Unfortunately, the others only have two DOM starts among them.

But it's not like the others were all bad.  Lincecum has 1 DOM and 1 MID, for a 50% DOM/0% DIS.  Hudson had two MIDs until his start today, where he had another MID but got BABIPed badly, so he is 0% DOM/0% DIS (but would probably have gotten a DOM today had he not thrown so much because of that one inning.    Bumgarner had one of each in his three starts, for a 33% DOM/33% DIS.  

It was really two starters who really stank, Peavy and Vogelsong.  Peavy had two DIS starts after talking his way out of not being placed on the DL, until he finally admitted he wasn't doing the team any good by not DLing and getting himself 100% healthy.  I understand the value of guttiness, but now was not the time for that, even if he just signed a new contract, he should have took the DL since we had starters in reserve for this type of situation.  On top of that, Vogelsong had a really bad start in place of Peavy's first start, and really hasn't pitched well in any appearance this season, he's been worse than gasoline, more like jet fuel.  

And here are some odd similarities between 2014 and 2015, even though there are a number of new members of the rotation.  In both seasons, the ace (#1) starter was up and down to start the season.  The second starter has not been his normal self, and eventually been DLed.  The third starter have seen a nice surprise, wasn't sure what to expect, but he came out dominating.  The fourth starter has been middling.  The only difference is the fifth starter has been better than last year.  

And the losing streak had a fair bit of bad luck in there too.  We lost the two DOM starts in that eight game losing streak.  And there were three MID starts. Plus the three DIS starts, which we rightly lost.  Instead of 0-8, most of the time, probably should have been 3-5 in that streak, winning three of the five DOM or MID starts.  That would have changed our record from 4-10 to 7-7, and even just winning the two DOM starts would have meant a 6-8 record, changing gloom and doom 6 games back to 3 game back mehness.

I'm Not Worried

I don't feel good, like everyone else.  It is never good to be 6 games back.  

But I'm not worried.  We still have 148 games to play.   A LOT can still happen.  We can still win 90 games, we still can get into the playoffs.  To reach 90 wins, the Giants only need to play at a .581 win pace to reach that.   This team has done it before with the majority of these players.  

One good win streak and we are back into the playoff race.  We have seen this back and forth action in terms of the NL West standings for years now, one or two teams will get off to a great start, but then they hit their bad patch, while the others who had bad were now good, and catch up, changing up who the leaders are during the season.  The Giants can be that team.

It is not good that Pence and Cain is still not ready to resume physical activity, but, at least for Pence, it should not be much longer.  Hunter broke his arm, but none of it was displaced, it is just a matter of time before he's back in the lineup and all that would be forgotten.  

As I noted above, the pitching hasn't been all that bad, based on their sabermetric performances per PQS.  It has certainly not been good, a 36% DOM is never good, but good starts at 40% and goes from there.   And they were similarly poorly performing last season as well, that was masked by the hot offense we had at the start of last season, but then turned it on by mid-to-late April, and that carried the offense for a long while, until June.

And we have had good pitching.  Bumgarner, would be foolish to think he's going to be like this all season.  He'll snap out of it, like he did last season when he stumbled to start the season.  Hudson and Lincecum has been OK up to now, showing some flash, but more importantly, not giving in and throwing up a disaster start.  And Heston has been a god-send thus far, can't expect him to be this good all season, but based on what he's done at each level rising up the minors, he's a battler with success at every level now, so you can't bet against him either.   

And that's the formula the Giants used in 2009 to 2014 to deliver good PQS performances each season that helps drive winning streaks.  You have the ace, you have three good contributors, and then you have the 5th starter who stinks up the place.   That will kick in soon once Bumgarner finds his bliss, like he has in seasons past, and give us the ace to go with the other good performers.  

Peavy Replacement Starter and When

Bochy has not given a hint yet who will get the last rotation spot in place of Peavy, other than to say probably either Vogelsong or Petit.  Looking at the 40-man roster makes that statement look clear:  they have no 40 man starting pitcher waiting in the minors.  If they want to bring up, say, Braulino Lara, who has done very well in two AAA starts so far, or old vet Kevin Correia, who they recently picked up, they would have to drop somebody that they have held onto very strongly so far.  Cordier and Parker are probably the next guys on the list, but the Giants have steadfastly held onto them so far.  

Bochy has also said that he's not adjusting the rotation by moving Heston up a start to pitch against the LADdies.  That makes sense, as then he would be pitching the potential rubber game against our hated rivals.  That would be a lot of pressure to put on the young rookie, a lot to put on his shoulders.  It would also have the stink of desperation, which a lot of fans have been giving off, but not something that Bochy would ever do this early in the season.  So Vogie or Petit would be taking that Peavy start against LA.

Thinking it over, seems to me that there are two scenarios that could affect the decision, which I expect to be announced after the second game of the series.  While it is too early to have a must win, if the Giants are in position to win the series, I think that Bochy would start Petit.  He has pitched much better than Vogelsong so far this season, and better than him the past two seasons, when Petit is given the mantle of "starter in the rotation" and not "replacement starter".  If the series is tied 1-1, I can see Petit being given the start, to go for the win.

On the other hand, if either team has already won the series by winning the first two games, then I can see Bochy giving Vogelsong the start.   At this point, he got nothing to lose by starting Vogelsong. Perhaps Vogie has been struggling to get into his relief role.  That happens to most pitchers, it seems like, I've read that comment too often to not believe that until a pitcher accepts his relief role, he can't do well as a reliever, because part of him still thinks he is a starter.  So putting him in the rotation in place of Peavy would at least place him back in a familiar role, and hopefully relax him enough to do well again.

And that circumstance, Vogie in the starting rotation relaxing him, might just be the factor that makes him the starter no matter what.  However, that was true even before Peavy got DLed, and up to now, Bochy had been deferring to Vogie's veteranness and making him the starter while keeping Petit in his great role out of the bullpen.  But instead of going there immediately, Bochy first said that they would need to think about it, then said that it would be either Vogie or Petit.  So hence why I tried to divine what circumstances could be driving Bochy's decision making.  It will be interesting to see how and who he choses.

LA Due to Cool Off

Plus, the Bridegrooms have been riding a bunch of hot streaks.  A-Gon is not going to hit so many homers and doubles.  A-Gon and Kendrick's BABIP is going to regress to career means as well.  Pederson is striking out way too much to keep up his hitting or .474 BABIP.  And Peralta is not going to be able to keep up being a good closer, his last very good season was in 2011 and he's 39 YO, not likely to get better suddenly, he's more likely to regress to his 3.79 ERA over his past three seasons.  

This is as good a time for them to return to reality.  Streaks like this rarely last more than a couple of weeks, and they have a bunch of players just playing above their talents, and these guys have good talent, just not good enough to do something that no player in the history of the majors has ever done, having such high BABIPs.  Plus, getting to play at home for 9 of their first 12 games (and the 3 road games were in AZ, hardly much of a trip and they even got an off day before the short trip), helped them a lot, I would have to think, they got to stay home and get comfortable.   Today is their third off day already.  So a lot of things have gone their way, and good times don't last forever.

Giants Get A Rest

Plus, they'll be in SF, which gives us some home advantage as well, as bad as we've been doing.  There must be some reason why the MLB starts each team slowly in April.  As much as players complain that they don't need that much spring training or that much rest, there is always a lot more days off in April than there is in August and September.  That is why a lot of teams skipped their 5th starter in April in years past and didn't bring him in until May, all the days off enabled that.  I view them as opportunities to rest and allow the players to get back into the swing of things, as well as a day to get their mind off things.

But the Giants have just had a 14 day stretch where they started the season and didn't have a rest until today.  Many teams already had two days of rest already and I read that the Cards will have their 4th day of rest tomorrow, plus as noted, today is the Dodger's 3rd day of rest already.  The Giants, meanwhile, had three travel days with no off days plus no off days.  It is almost like the MLB did that on purpose, the Giants being on the road should have gotten more days off, while the Dodgers, being mostly at home, should have had zero days off.  

So whether it's mental or physical rest that players need this early in the season, the Giants players have gotten no rest at all, which has not helped to change their mind set once the badness started to flow.  I expect the players to get refreshed some with today's off day and be better able to battle LA the next three days.  Hopefully they can get out of whatever bad habits they have gotten into, hit the mental reset button, and come out great tomorrow.

Go Giants!  Buck the Bridegrooms!


  1. Agree that the pitching hasn't been that bad - although that's mostly only because of Heston doing so well.
    However, the real problem is offense. The Giants are tied for the 4th fewest runs scored in the NL - and are worse than that because they've played more games than the other 3.
    Some is the absence of Pence, the most is because Buster, Crawford, Belt, *and* McGehee have not started well at all. Pagan and Aoki have done well, but there's only so much you can do when the 4 above are averaging under 0.200 collectively. Can we say 2014 Padres?
    More of a concern is that this hasn't even been against the toughest pitching in the NL - the Giants haven't played either LA or Washington.
    It is still early, but equally, a really awful start bodes poorly for breaking the even year thing.

    1. Great comment! Yes, without Heston, it would be hella worse. Just like last season, without Hudson, it would be hella worse. At that time, to rely on Hudson to continue that would be foolish, but just as foolish betting against Bumgarner correcting himself at some point and returning to normal.

      And thanks for pointing out that the offense has been horrible. I should have covered that in my comments, but focused more on the pitching since that was my topic starter (but that never stopped me before :^).

      You listed all the "highlights" of how bad we are. We have been pretty bad overall.

      But you state 2014 Padres as if that is our talent level. Buster, Crawford, and Belt have been hitting below what they are capable of. Is it realistic to believe that this 2 week slowness is their performance for the year? I don't think so. And Crawford has already gotten his numbers back up to his normal career levels. So I don't think that it is fair (yet) to label them like that right now.

      Players have bad two weeks all the time. Most of our hitters happen to be having it at the same time, unfortunately. It was bad enough losing one of our middle of the lineup hitters in Pence, but then to lose Belt to injury then him losing his stroke while sitting, plus Posey going through another slow stretch, there goes all the guys you expect to drive in runs, no wonder we aren't scoring runs.

      When batters are in a bad rut, it don't matter how good or bad the other pitching is, they just look bad. They showed some life in that other game, eventually losing it, then won on ring day. So who knows how long this streak will last.

      To your point, the awful start could really kill our chances of repeating and breaking the even year thing (and really, I don't like this term, because if you take a deeper look into the statement, you realize the Giants have NEVER won in an odd year, in their time in SF).

      And it could get worse before it gets better. We are getting some life from Crawford, Panik, Duffy, and Blanco, but now Aoki, Pagan, Posey, McGehee, and Belt are all struggling to some degree.

      Posey looks like a temporary thing, he's still not striking out much, meaning it's bad BABIP time, but Belt has been striking out way too much. Same for Aoki, Pagan, McGehee as well, great contact rate, just not for hits. But until we get some actual slugging from our middle lineup hitters, we will continue struggle.

      And to your great point, at some point the bad start will cost a chance for a playoff spot.

      However, that's the beauty of a long baseball season. Teams off to hot starts suddenly face reality and fall back to the pack. Teams off to cold starts suddenly get healthy and rise in the pack. It is way too soon to be talking about blowing our chances of repeating. As I've analyzed, we have a good team overall. The problem is getting them to perform to their abilities.

      If Bumgarner and Posey were doing what they were projected to do, instead of being 4-10, we should be at least 6-8 (assuming Bumgarner would have won one of his last two starts and Posey was hitting his normal way) and the angst would not be as wailing wall as it has been among the Giants fans.

      Lastly, I'll end with this: this is the team that came back from far behind in 2010 to win it all, including winning on the last day of the season, the team that was on the edge of elimination in 2012 and was down two wins in both went 6-0, the team that nearly fell out of the playoffs, held the last wild card spot, then rode the back of their ace into another championship. They were also the team that continued to lead the NL West in 2011 without Posey until they acquired Carlos Beltran.

    2. (cont...) I'm not saying that they have a magic touch in such situations. But such situations do not appear to scare them much (definitely not as much as it scares us fans) nor affect how they play.

      They play to win today's game, nothing more, nothing less. Even in 2013, when they were getting close to getting a Top 5 pick overall (I was salivating, I'll admit it, they were at 6th I believe), they bring back Pagan and he played his heart out and they finished well enough to push their pick into the teens last year (where we got Beede).

      So as a fan, I agree that the poor start bodes very poorly for repeating. But it is early and this team has a lot of players who refuse to yield. And that's always exciting, at least to me, even if we don't win it all (part of my upbringing following the Giants in the 70's and 80's, I guess :^).

  2. Do you have any insights as to why the FO decided that Petite should continue his role as an occasional starter and 1-2 inning "hold the game guy" and not use him as starter this year? Wouldn't he have been cheaper, more reliable and within the reward for doing great things in the playoffs than Peavy? and easier to replace from within the system (atleast the middle of the game holding role)?

    1. I agree with you, I love Petit, and I would have made him the starter, just on the concept of it, taking the spot that Peavy got (Plus we would have saved $13M for 2 years).

      But I see why they kept him there. Not every starting pitcher can make the transition to a reliever unscathed. One consistent message I've read from relievers who finally were good was that they were not good relievers until they accepted that they were no longer starters. Petit has that mindset already and is fine with it. Vogelsong, however, has not.

      And what a weapon Petit is! We've all seen it the past couple of years, particularly last season. You can't buy a pitcher who can do that as a reliever and just throwing a prospect in there to do that won't guarantee such performance, which is probably the reason why the Giants chose to keep him in that role still for this season.

      So I still would have rather had him as a starter, but can see why they decided to keep him in this role, particularly once they picked up Vogelsong as another long starter. May as well use the guy whose mindset is that of a starter as the starter. Plus, who would we put in that role instead AND can expect to get the same type of results?

      Here's another reason I accept his role: I don't know what the effect of familiarity will be on his performance. He's actually another version of Heston to me: a pitcher who the scouts do not see much advantage too or skill in, and yet is performing well in the majors right now.

      I remember discussing Petit with prospect hounds and the general consensus was that he didn't have any good skills, and hence they were very negative about him bringing what he was doing in AAA to the majors. Yet he has so far.

      An analysis I saw on Fangraphs showed that he has a deceptive throwing motion, his throwing hand (and thus the ball) disappears behind his head in his throwing motion and then pops out at the hitter. That moment of lost motion has caused MLB hitters to swing and miss a lot more than they should against a pitcher with not much velocity and not much "stuff" (i.e. his pitches have little movement).

      What if familiarity allows hitters to get used to his throwing motion? He's effective now because of his deceptive motion, but once hitters get used to that, he's got nothing else to fall back on, which is why he was dumped as a prospect by a number of teams, and why he was available for nothing to the Giants.

      I don't know pitching motion to know the answer to that, but given the Giants actions so far, that is my best explanation of why they don't give him a spot in the starting rotation so far. Seems like a no-brainer to me too, but they have their reasons for it. Based on what I see from his numbers, I would start him.

      But one of the tenets of saber thoughts is that you want your best pitchers pitching when the situation gets tough in relief. The way Petit is pitching, he is among the best, and he shuts down the other team long enough generally that we can then catch up and hopefully win. We lose that most probably if we start him and replace him.

      He's basically being used the way I've been advocating to use Lincecum as once he is not a full-time starter anymore, as a super-utility pitcher who can spot-start, come into the middle of a game and bridge to the set-up and/or closer, come in and shut down rallies as a set-up guy, or close out a game, particularly an extra inning game where multiple innings are needed. Petit has mostly inhabited that role, I realize now from this comment, but that was what I was hoping to get from Lincecum at some point. Basically, he showed the value of such a role in the 2012 playoffs.

  3. That's three straight DOM starts against LA, and now four out of last five starts. If Heston, Hudson, and Lincecum can continue pitching well, that will help to get over that second rotation hiccup. It didn't help with Peavy trying to force things and tossing two disaster starts, screwing things up.

    1. Lincecum did well in his first 2 starts, but his last one was very lucky.
      First 2 starts, he had an unusually high GB rate. In this last one, it was more typical but half of the GBs went for double plays.
      Timmie got 4 DPs in 6 innings (a lineout/double off first on top of the 3 typical) - the numbers might look good but the actual pitching was far from it.
      One thing I can say is that it seems he is getting more sink on his pitches than before - which is why he had so many GBs in the first 2 games. However, clearly the league is also adjusting so it seems unlikely that Lincecum will maintain his present 60% GB ratio (vs. his historic mid 40s%).
      Jury is still out as to whether he's dramatically different than the previous 2 years.

    2. Well, I use the PQS methodology to guide my discussions and his last start was a 4 PQS, which is considered a dominant start. Sure, getting 4 DP is lucky, but that don't mean that he would not have gotten the subsequent batters out anyway.

      Dominance, in PQS terms, means not giving up many hits while going at least 6 innings and striking out a good amount (at least IP-2, or in this case, at least 4 strikeouts), plus only give up one or less homers. It also means not walking too many, but that is why he got a 4 and not a 5 PQS rating.

      Yes, after three starts, the jury is always out, but he's at least on the right track, with three good (or good enough) starts so far, and more importantly, no disaster starts that pretty automatically sinks your chances of winning.

      Here's something different in 2015 vs. 2012-2014: his 2015 is the best start to the season he has had in the past four seasons. 2 DOM starts so far plus no DIS starts. Across the 3 years, he only had 3 DOM starts and had 2 DIS starts.

      Thanks for the observation about sink. Perhaps the workout with his dad yielded a new trick? We'll see, but I don't know how you judge that the league is adjusting already based on one game.

    3. I look at the opposing teams' GB tendencies vs. the pitcher's GB historical tendencies.
      The 2 previous starts were against teams with high FB tendencies while the Dodgers are fairly neutral. Equally, if any team were to be interested/able to adjust quickly, it is the Dodgers vs. the Giants.
      I'd also note that while luck exists - there is luck and there is LUCK - the latter start for Lincecum was absolutely in the LUCK category.
      I don't expect any starter to be perfect - yesterday's game vs. the Rockies was a good example of bad luck where the Rockies just doinked the Giants to death. Lincecum's last start: he got lucky at least 4 different times in that a ball hit 2 inches in either direction would have resulted in a very negative result. Once or twice either way, this happens but as you require more and more unusually positive results, you're geometrically less and less likely to get them. This is what separates a good or great pitcher vs. a mediocre one - the numbers of times good luck has to occur or bad luck not to occur in order to prevent runs.
      We'll see with his next start - the Angels are one of the more extreme flyball teams. If Lincecum can continue his 50% GB rate, then the change is more likely to be real.

    4. Ah, yes, GB vs. FB tendencies. Thanks, had forgotten about that nuance of analysis.

      Thanks for explaining. Yes, we'll get a better view into where he is going with his next start. And I basically view his journey as much like that in AA, one start at a time, that improvement could be reversed, just like that, and we'll see how long he can stretch things out.



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